In 2019, Google introduced something called Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or BERT.
It’s a natural-language processing tool, and it helps the search engine answer questions more like, well, a human.
Since the BERT algorithm update, Google has gotten a lot better at figuring out search intent. Here’s all you need to know about search intent for SEO.
Stay tuned for a list of our favorite tools to help you discover search intent for SEO.
What Is Search Intent — and Why Does It Make a Difference for SEO?
While keywords are the actual words that go into a search query, there’s a deeper meaning behind that press of the enter button. That’s what search intent (AKA user intent) is: the user’s primary goal behind their actual search.
Keyword intent has been in the limelight for a while, but it really came into focus with the launch of Google’s BERT algorithm. This update focuses on natural-language processing through the use of RankBrain, the company’s first-ever AI for search queries.
BERT affects SEO in two distinct ways:
- Organic search results
- Featured snippets
Google’s increasing emphasis on search intent ultimately translates to a better user experience for folks behind the keyboard. While we don’t know exactly how many pages Google is crawling per day, we can assume that with a projected 3.5 billion search queries every day, the number is a lot.
With all this in mind, it only makes sense that Google would want to streamline their approach to SERPs as query responses. Search intent is their top priority. Using AI puts them one step closer to understanding the humanity behind the search, even if there are no humans actively digging up answers to the most nuanced of questions.
FUN FACT: Google performed a study that proves what most of us already assumed. Each search is unique, and there are as many customer journeys (or simply user journeys) as there are snowflakes in the Bijin Bayashi Forest. And yes, I used Google to find out that this is indeed the snowiest place on earth.
Breaking It Down: The 4 Types of Search Intent
If no two searches are the same, what does that mean for understanding keyword intent as an SEO professional? Fortunately, we can safely sort search intent into four compartments: informational, commercial, navigational, and transactional. Here’s more on each one.
Informational searches are those with the intent to find out information. The user has a question they’re looking for an answer to, which means there may not be any ulterior intent, such as to purchase a product or service. Rather, the user simply wants to know who’s who and what’s what.
In informational searches, a user may implement terms like:
- who, what, where, when, why, or how
- guide, tutorial, or resource
- ideas, tips, learn, or example
Examples of informational searches: What is the snowiest place in the world? What are free radicals? What tools can I use to discover search intent for SEO?
Commercial searches are those with the intent of landing on commercial products or services. To acquire this search intent, bloggers and content creators gear their site toward product reviews, comparisons, and more. There are endless types of commercial deliverables that can fall into this category.
In commercial searches, a user may implement terms like:
- best or top
- review or comparison
- product attributes (such as size, color or general category)
Examples of commercial searches: best home office standing desk, high-speed blender comparison, Solidcore Chelsea
Navigational searches are those with the intent to discover brands, products, and services. Here, a user is looking for something specific that can serve them, whether it be a want or a need. It’s called navigational because the user has a goal of ending up on a predetermined page.
In navigational searches, a user may implement terms like:
- brand names
- product names
- service names
Examples of navigational searches: Ignite Visibility contact, Robinhood, Lowe’s return policy
Transactional searches are those with the intent of completing a purchase. At the end of the search, the user hopes to make a transaction or know which transaction they hope to make in the future. They might stockpile the results for a later date or make a purchase right away.
In transactional searches, a user may implement terms like:
- buy, purchase or order
- cheap, price or pricing
- town/city and type of merchant (for local SEO)
- near me (for local SEO)
Examples of transactional searches: grocery delivery near me, oat milk coupons, cheap oil change Pittsburgh
Each of these four types of search intent can be endlessly broken down into more categories, ultimately showcasing the true depth of user intent (and the real reason why AI technology comes so in handy for these purposes).
Judging & Optimizing for Search Intent
On the surface, keyword intent can seem out-of-the-box. It may not feel quite as concrete as a simple keyword analysis, but analyzing user intent can mean the difference between the first or second (or tenth!) pages on Google.
There are a few ways to help you judge search intent, namely:
- Analyze content that already ranks for your keyword to determine how they deliver solutions to user intent.
- Take a look at various SERP features, like Related Questions, ads, People Also Ask, Sitelinks, Shopping Results, Video Results, Knowledge Cards, and more.
- Stay up to date on new SEO research to see how the status quo for user intent evolves in the search engine world.
When it comes to optimizing for search intent, you’ll want to combine traditional SEO with user intent for the best results. Be sure to keep your nose to the ground when it comes to Google rankings (how often are they changing, and how?) and SERP types (what are the content types, formats, and angles that you’re seeing?).
In the end, it’s your ROI on the line, so whether or not you choose to take part in the proven strategy of search intent for SEO is up to you.
FUN FACT: An Ignite Visibility study showed that 85.2% of respondents preferred organic results to paid ads on Google SERPs. Meanwhile, 66.7% said that including more ads on a SERP would make them more averse to the platform. In the context of search intent for SEO, authenticity matters.
The Best Tools to Help You Discover Search Intent
- Google Ads (or another keyword research tool) – In order to determine the keyword intent behind your target keywords, you’re going to need keywords to work with in the first place. While it’s far from the only place you can look, Google Ads is a solid starting point. Head to the Keyword Planner to get new keywords to work with, determine search volumes and forecast relevant queries.
- Featured Snippets and People Also Ask (for informational searches) – Pay close attention to SERP features like these when analyzing results pages. They’ll tell you a ton about what wins and loses for any particular keyword groups. Other features include sitelinks, knowledge cards, video results, news results and shopping results.
- SERP Ranking Analysis – Take your keywords and see what’s ranking at the top for each. Pay close attention to results 1–10. Statistically, they get the highest clickthrough rates — and that’s what you’re aiming for, right? Right.
- Local SEO Analysis (for transactional searches) – Local search results are prime for the picking for various types of merchants and service providers. Focusing on a SERP analysis of Google My Business and map results will make a world of difference in how you tackle search intent from a local lens.
- Long-Tail Keyword Analysis – Long-tail keywords are far more likely to have nuanced intent behind the screen. Using them as a basis for determining search intent can lead to a deeper understanding of your target audience, like what they’re looking for when they click on a top result.
- Moz Pro (or another comprehensive SEO dashboard) – If you have the budget, tools like Moz Pro and Ahrefs can be extremely helpful in getting started with developing a holistic SEO approach (search intent included). You can also contract out SEO analysis and rollout services to experts who know the lay of the land. Whether you choose an agency or software to back you up is your choice. Considering the historically impressive ROI of SEO (SEO is up to 75% more affordable than PPC, anyway), the jump may be worth its weight in gold.
Search Intent Proves That Meaning Matters In SEO
According to Google, 15% of daily queries on the search engine are brand new. As a result, Google has had to develop a system that decodes intent in a wholly human way. Knowing what to look for in search intent, and using helpful tools along the way, can help you optimize for your target audience like never before. At the end of the day, you can’t dominate Google if you don’t prioritize search intent for SEO.